Buckley’s creates a timeline of awful tastes

The brand puts the focus on its flagship product and well-known tagline to celebrate its 100th anniversary.


By Blair McBride

As Buckley’s tagline has said for decades, its cold medicine tastes awful, and it works. And the brand’s new campaign aims to show that’s been true for 100 years.

Parent company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and agency partner Saatchi & Saatchi teamed up for the “100 Years of Buckley’s” campaign, which showcases 100 images online and as a timeline inside Toronto subways – one for each year the medicine has been on the shelves.

3693-3694 Buckleys 20x28 Posters v711Each photo shows cold and flu sufferers throughout the years, shown in period-appropriate styles and environments, holding a spoon and contorting their faces in reaction to the medicine’s flavour.

When an online user hovers on an image, it flips around and displays a factoid from that year, such as the Raptors’ 2019 championship victory, the invention of the snowblower or when gas stations began selling by the litre. The subway ads are presented as a timeline, allowing commuters to walk past the 100 faces as cold and flu season begins and the cold weather begins to increase transit ridership. The campaign also features a curated Spotify playlist that includes one song from each year, focusing on songs that represent “bad taste” going all the way back to the popular war era song “K-K-K-Katy” from 1919.

For Buckley’s centenary, the company wanted to express the truth of the product in a simple way that showed Buckley’s efficacy – its key selling point – has stayed the same amidst the changes of 100 years, as Jeff Leeming, senior brand manager at GSK, tells strategy.

“Showing 100 emotional reactions shows the visceral reaction of people,” he says. “Even if you haven’t taken it, you can relate to the product.”

Last year’s cold and flu season was comparatively weak to other years, Leeming said, which was good for the sake of Canadians’ health but challenging for Buckley’s sales. The centenary was an opportunity to recover from that, as well as re-focus on its cough syrup, which represents Buckley’s main equity of sales.

3693-3694 Buckleys 20x28 Posters v772“We have a pills business and we’ve put a lot of work into that. [But] I’ve tried to make sure we don’t forget our liquid medicine and we wanted to bring meaningful attention back to the syrups business.”

The shoot for the campaign was the largest GSK had ever done, Leeming said. The 100 images and 100 unique backgrounds that made it into the final product were the result of more than 20,000 photos taken by a photographer, who worked on the shoot for three weeks.

The campaign is scheduled to be online until early December and on subway car interiors along the Yonge-University line for the next four weeks.